Las Vegas: Round three preview

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series News and Notes - Las Vegas Desert Duel: Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears and Matt Kenseth the leading Las Vegas favorites DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 7, 2006) -- Take the top three drivers in the current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup ...

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series News and Notes - Las Vegas

Desert Duel: Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears and Matt Kenseth the leading Las Vegas favorites

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 7, 2006) -- Take the top three drivers in the current NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings, add similar statistics, healthy doses of confidence, and the recipe for Sunday's UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway promises to be a showstopper.

A duel in the desert.

Begin with standings leader Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), who returns as the defending race winner. His good friend Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge), in second-place, is off to the strongest start in his career. And third-place Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Ford) won two weeks ago at California, and has claimed two of the last three Las Vegas events.

"Anyone who gets on a plane headed to Vegas wants to win," Johnson said. "Race car drivers are no different. It's an exciting place to visit and a great place to race and an even better place to win. We did that last year and would certainly like to do it again this weekend."

Last season's victory at Las Vegas marked the first of four 2005 wins for Johnson. It also interrupted a string of two consecutive triumphs there for Matt Kenseth, who won in 2003 and '04.

"I think you have a better chance of winning when you have some momentum and you're running good and leading laps and doing all that stuff," Kenseth said, "but I think it can really come at any side of it."

Johnson -- the Daytona 500 champion who finished second behind Kenseth at California -- has one win and two top-10 finishes in four races at Las Vegas. Kenseth, who rebounded from a disappointing 15th-place finish at Daytona to win at California, has two wins and three top-10 finishes at Las Vegas. He finished eighth a year ago and has led 221 of the 2,017 total laps there -- the most of any driver.

Mears, who seeks his first series win, also boasts a solid Las Vegas record. He finished seventh there in 2005 and '04, and 15th in his rookie season of '03. And he and Kenseth consistently were among the 10 fastest drivers during NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Las Vegas testing on Jan. 30-Feb. 1.

Kenseth has several new faces on his team and says the early success has proven crucial.

"It's a young group," he said. "Well, it's kind of a mixture, but some of the new guys coming in were real young and got a lot of energy. A lot of them in California, that was their first Cup win, first time ever in Victory Lane, and that really gets everybody fired up and excited."

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson